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Next month sees the launch of the Certificate in Retail Skills

Next month sees the launch of the Certificate in Retail Skills a nationally recognised qualification for shop floor staff. Skillsmart, the Retail Sector Skills Council, is hoping it will become the standard in judging retail skills.
Sector Skills Councils replace National Training Organisations, which lost their Government recognition in March 2002. The five pilot Sector Skills Councils are the first steps to a new network giving employers a stronger voice in the planning and delivery of learning and skills. Set up by business for business, the Councils will demonstrate to everyone the importance of investing in the workforce, present and future. They will produce top class labour market and skills intelligence to help identify our workforce development needs, and provide the highest level of business leadership to influence the supply of education and training across the range. Government's hope is that Sector Skills Councils will make a significant contribution towards the UK achieving a faster rise in productivity than our major competitors.
Retail is both a vital and vibrant sector of the UK economy where 11% of the workforce is employed. The retail market place is intensely competitive, influenced largely by technology and consumer demands. As retailers strive both to delight their customers and to reduce their cost bases, a knowledgeable, skilled, change oriented and highly productive workforce will be key to future success.
Whilst most retailers invest significantly in training, the sector is not well perceived by those looking for good employment and career prospects. This means that retailers are not always able to recruit and, moreover, retain the best staff available, leading to a vicious circle of low skills, low productivity and high staff turnover etc.
For these reasons, the establishment of Skillsmart has demonstrable support from the sector itself, academia and government. Large retailers in particular are not however blind to the magnitude of the task and the reasons why previous efforts in this field have been largely unsuccessful, notably the lack of employer support and insufficient financial resources from government. In their view, success this time will depend on Skillsmart being strategic (rather than tactical) in its thinking, by focusing on those factors which will make a difference to the sector for the long term. They are equally clear that Skillsmart products and services should be demand led from them as employers and be seen as adding long term value to the sector.
The long term vision of Skillsmart will be to change the public perception of the retail sector to one that offers outstanding employment and career opportunities, where anyone can develop to any level through the provision of high quality training and the opportunity to pursue qualifications. We believe that this vision is achievable, that we will be able to make significant progress over the first two years and that it will still prevail when a submission is made for a full, five year contract.
The mission of Skillsmart will be to raise sector performance through the recruitment, retention and development of the best people available. In support of this agenda, short and medium term projects will therefore:
- conduct a 'health check' of the sector
- better promote employment and career opportunities
- develop an overall training and qualifications framework which is more attractive to employers
- provide retailers with robust employment data and research
- work with SMEs to determine ways in which Skillsmart can contribute towards their business development

The agenda is deliberately ambitious. If the vision and mission are met, the profile of the retail sector will have changed significantly and the vicious circle of low skills, low productivity etc will have started to become virtuous. We believe that we will achieve our agenda.
Skillsmart will be a wholly owned subsidiary of the British Retail Consortium (BRC). The Chief Executive and staff will operate under the jurisdiction of a lay Chair and Board, comprising Chief Executives and Directors of larger companies, representatives from smaller retailers, non BRC members and the Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers.

Background and information
This document set out the strategic business plan for Skillsmart for the two year period April 2002 - March 2004. The plan will be used to secure 'buy in' from all stakeholders and to assist in obtaining a sector skills licence and full development contract from Government.
The plan reflects the reality that, unlike the other 4 'trailblazer' Sector Skills Councils (SSC), Skillsmart will need to be developed from scratch. This requires a degree of acceptance from all parties that, whilst we will proceed as quickly as possible, time will be needed to develop a full understanding of the sector's issues as well as potential solutions.
The plan sets out Skillsmart objectives, goals, strategies and measures and will be refined continuously to reflect the needs of stakeholders.

The Retail Sector
The retail sector represents 11% of the UK workforce and 25% of GDP. It is a fast moving and highly competitive sector where customer demands are constantly changing and intensifying. Globalisation, new technologies, demographic shifts and changing lifestyles mean that retail must constantly
re-invent itself to stay ahead.
Retailing is a major engine of employment growth in the economy, creating 105,000 new jobs (net) in the year to June 2001. In the last five years, the sector has grown at an average of 100,000 jobs per year.
In the last 20 years, the real output of retail has increased considerably faster then the growth of the whole economy (GDP 2.4% v Retail 3.4%), yet the price of retail services has increased more slowly then the general level of consumer prices (RPI 5.2% v Retail 4.6%).
Increasingly shops are open for long hours and the task of managing both shops and the associated workforce is becoming increasingly complex. There is also constant pressure to reduce costs and therefore prices.
The sector is at the forefront in deploying employment policies such as flexible working, workplace diversity and the employment of older workers.
The environmental agenda and increased interest in ethical trading issues are placing new demands on managers and staff; demands that are even greater in the SME sector which has to cope with the same business challenges with fewer resources.
The retail sector makes a significant contribution to Government priorities including low inflation, food safety, sustainable development, social inclusion and regeneration and crime prevention.

The need for a Sector Skills Council
In the intensely competitive market place in which retailers operate, the ability to recruit, retain and develop quality people is critical to increasing market share. In addition, labour productivity is crucial to the control of costs and therefore prices. A knowledgeable, skilled and motivated workforce is therefore essential to business success.
With the exception of specialised areas such as customer service and general management, retail employers believe that their skills shortages are largely a result of the sector's poor employment perception. They believe that the skills are available, but that the problem for retail is attracting the right people into a retail career and retaining them thereafter. This is a root cause of many of the sector's problems and addressing these presentational issues will be the key goal of Skillsmart and one which will also underpin many of its other activities.
Poor perception is prevalent across all age groups. Amongst 14 to 19 year olds, the majority of pupils, careers teachers and careers advisors do not view retailing as a serious career option. This is partly due to ignorance, amongst these groups, of the real (and sometimes unique) opportunities that retail has to offer and partly due to the perception gained by young people who work in stores on a casual basis while still at school.
There is ignorance too about the plethora of retail qualifications both vocational and those available in further and higher education. Although many of these are of high quality and although many retail employers use them to full advantage, such activity is not co-ordinated and, as a result, there is no overall, recognised qualifications framework for retail.
The DTI sponsored Foresight research concluded that amongst 19 to 25 year olds in full time (non retail) education, the perception is continued with under graduates and graduates not being clear on the advantages that a career in retailing can bring. Even those attending academic, retail programmes are not always guaranteed to stay in retail for the long term.
Adults looking for shop floor roles, often see retail as a last (and low pay) option, although many would of course acknowledge the personal flexibility that working in retail offers them. Adults looking for a second career rarely consider retail as a serious option and yet there is a plentiful supply and many have the transferable management skills to succeed in this field.
For all these reasons, there is a clear demand for a Sector Skills Council from employers, from academia and from government. Previous efforts in this field have met with limited success largely because they did not have the full backing of the sector or the resources necessary to deliver real value. Skillsmart will not repeat these mistakes and the sector is overwhelmingly supportive of a clear agenda that, above all else, seeks to raise the profile of retailing as a career.
What Skillsmart will look like?
Skillsmart will be a limited liability company and will be a wholly owned subsidiary of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), which will provide accounting and company secretarial functions.
The Chief Executive (an HR Director seconded for two years from Sainsbury's) will be responsible to a Chair and Board. Given that Skillsmart is a 'start up' organisation, it will be important to evolve and build competence in a structured manner. In the first instance, the import of knowledge and experience will be vital in order to understand the history - what has worked and what hasn't. Fixed term contracts and consultants who have long term experience in the retail field will be used to help gain early credibility with employers. Others will be recruited, probably on permanent contracts, once the shape and future direction of Skillsmart becomes clearer and will be supported by external contractors used for specific work projects.
During subsequent phases of development, as work-plans grow and as other sources of funding become available, the headcount (both permanent and contract) will need to grow significantly.
The Skillsmart Board will be chaired by the CEO of a major retail company and will comprise of other CEOs, HR and Training Directors, the shop workers' union USDAW, a representative from academia, smaller retailers and retailers who are not members of the BRC. The Board of the BRC will approve strategy and review performance and Skillsmart Board will be responsible for recommending areas for strategic and business development and monitoring operational delivery.
Relationships with academia will be particularly critical given our determination to address the issues surrounding qualifications and our desire to access their research facilities. We therefore believe that an academic sub committee of the Board should be established.
In accordance with the requirements of the Welsh Language Act, the Sector Skills Council, as a designated body, will operate a Welsh Language Policy.

Critical success factors over the first two years?
Clearly success will ultimately depend on whether Skillsmart meets its stated objectives and goals as laid out in section 7 and which will form the basis of a contract with government. There are, however, a number of other factors which, if met, will be critical to success.
Skillsmart will need to build on the considerable support already expressed by retailers themselves, educational establishments and USDAW. It must also be able to quickly develop partnerships with the Devolved Administrations where detailed discussions are already taking place. Also with governmental bodies such as Learning and Skills Councils, Regional Development Agencies and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. Skillsmart accepts that it will be unable to pursue its agenda without full collaboration with these various bodies.
To do this, Skillsmart will need to establish itself as a credible organisation, with the retail knowledge and expertise to quickly understand issues and offer solutions to the sector.
In particular, Skillsmart must possess the skills to assess existing activity around skills training and qualifications and to create an overall framework which employers' support that builds on existing good practice. In this respect it will be essential going forward that Skillsmart is seen as the first point of contact for government when considering initiatives and programmes designed to address training, skills and productivity issues in retail.
Skillsmart must be able to differentiate between the needs of large, medium and small retailers. The large retail chains (50 plus outlets nationwide) are likely to have well developed HR functions and will be concerned with the broader issues facing retail and their solutions. Medium sized retailers on the other hand will tend to operate with low overheads and with limited central resources and would probably stand to gain most from an enhanced public perception of the sector and more flexibility when dealing with government schemes. The small retailers (who will be approached through their representative bodies) will need much more basic knowledge on sector issues and where they can find help. Whilst not yet defined, Skillsmart will quickly embark on work to establish the specific needs of medium and small retailers and the ways in which Skillsmart should support them.
Skillsmart must be able to evolve in accordance with the expectations placed upon it by government and the sector itself. Whilst funding is assured for the first two years with Trail Blazer status, a full SSC licence in two years time is likely to require a business plan that moves Skillsmart towards self sufficiency by generating its own income Successful evolution will therefore mean that income generating activity must feature in the business plan for the first two years. The fact that employers will be willing to pay for Skillsmart products and services will itself be a measure of success.

Skillsmart's immediate mission, objectives and goals
To make a real contribution to building a more competitive and productive retail sector through the promotion of the significant employment and career opportunities that exist and through the continuous development of those that work in retail.
Reduce Skills gaps within the sector.
Improve productivity, business and public service performance.
Increase the opportunities to boost the skills of everyone in the sector
workforce while ensuring equality of opportunity for all.
Improve the learning supply.
Business Goals:
Promote and raise the profile of employment and career opportunities within retailing.
Devise and champion tailored solutions to skills gaps within he sector.
Devise and implement activities to increase participation and investment in learning by employers and individuals within the sector.
Assemble, maintain and disseminate information on the changing skills needs within the sector.
Improve learning opportunities for existing and potential members of the workforce to develop their skills to meet the needs of the sector.
Devise and action a key initiative targeted to have an impact on sector
Internal goals:
Develop and market Skillsmart as an entity.
Achieve full sector Skills Council standard within two years of the start of the contract.
Agree and action a business plan for the delivery of Skillsmart's functions and goals across the UK and to keep the plan updated during the life of the contract.
Communicate good practice and lessons learned throughout the duration of
the contract.


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